Two of the more interesting and (so far) successful rookies in the American League this year are Oakland Athletics first baseman Mark Canha and Tampa Bay Rays infielder Tim Beckham. Interesting, yes, but for radically different reasons. In fact their backgrounds are about as different as you can get.
Canha was a successful college hitter for three years at the University of California with impressive sophomore and junior seasons on his resume. Although his hitting skills were respected he did not excite scouts with his defense or overall tools, dropping him down to the seventh round of the 2010 draft. He remained solidly productive in pro ball: wRC+ 144 in Low-A in 2011, 128 in High-A in 2012, 144 in Double-A in 2013, and 131 in Triple-A in 2014.
He was an above-average to excellent hitter at each level when context is considered. Although his production numbers were steady and strong in aggregate, Canha was often rather streaky and would have hot/cold spells. They would balance out in the end, but a guy with his defensive profile needs to hit all the time to keep his reputation. There were always flashier players around who ran faster times in the 60 and looked better in uniform.
Additionally, Canha's lack of speed and mediocre defense limits him to first base and left field. With no DH slot the Marlins didn't feel they had room for him and left him exposed to the Rule 5 draft.
Oakland snatched him up and here he is, hitting .292/.320/.417 through 48 at-bats, wRC+109. That's not outstanding but it is very much in line with what we would extrapolate from his minor league performance. My guess is that we could see the power numbers pick up but the batting average slip, but the overall profile of being a slightly above-average hitter seems like the genuine outcome. Canha could last a while as a role player.
Then there is Tim Beckham over in Tampa Bay.
Beckham has always had much more cachet among scouts and evaluators than Canha. He was the first-overall pick in the 2008 draft out of high school in Griffin, Georgia. He was athletic, fast, strong. He was expected to hit for both power and average with a good chance to remain at shortstop and develop into a long-term regular, if not an All Star.
It didn't quite happen that way. Beckham scuffled with the bat, not showing the anticipated pop and initially struggling with plate discipline. He was a tick above average as a contextual hitter at the lower levels (106 wRC+ in Low-A, 108 in High-A) but slipped after reaching the high minors where he was an average to below average producer (100 in Double-A, 91 in Triple-A). He missed much of 2012 on a recreational drug suspension, boosted his production slightly on his return in 2013 (back up to 106 wRC+) but missed almost all of 2014 with a torn ligament in his knee. All through this his speed dropped, his range gradually declined, and his reputation among evaluators slipped.
Beckham played well in spring training this year and earned a major league job. So far it looks like he can hold onto it, hitting .267/.303/.533 through 30 at-bats with two walks, 13 strikeouts, and a 133 wRC+. The power surge is not what you would expect given his track record, but Beckham's raw power has always been rated more highly than his game power and perhaps he can hold onto some of that.
Strike zone discipline remains an issue as well and Beckham doesn't look like he will ever be a major OBP force. However, his defense at second base has been quite steady so far. He isn't going to be the star the Rays thought they were getting back in 2008, but Beckham has enough baseball skills to have a long career as a role player.
Mark Canha, Tim Beckham. Very different backgrounds and physical profiles, but they could both end up with a similar career value as useful parts of a roster.